Choc was scheduled for 4 rides today, 3 for Alan King (Bakbenscher, Trigger the Light, and Polly Potter), and 1 for trainer Arthur Moore aboard the Irish raider, Native Clan.  Choc had ridden his 99th winner of the current campaign at Sandown Park on Friday, with a hair-raising ride in a steeplechase aboard Busy Isit.  I was hoping he would reach his 100th winner of the season today, thus taking the pressure off for Cheltenham which started the following Tuesday.  Martin Keighley’s charge, Any Currency, was also running in the first race of the day.

The preparations for my day’s racing started at 07:30 with a trip to the petrol station to fill my car with fuel.  Surprisingly all the pumps were occupied, despite the early hour and it being a large ‘supermarket’ forecourt.  As I was turning in, I remember saying to myself that I hope I didn’t have to use pump 13, but in the event it was the first one to become free so that’s exactly what happened!  

I returned just in time to catch the start of Channel 4’s The Morning Line, and they confirmed that a Space-Hopper race would be taking place before racing, as John Francome and Alice Plunkett were one of the teams competing.  There were 2 other teams – Sam Thomas with Tom Scudamore, and Timmy Murphy and Choc.  When I’d read about the event on the Sandown Park website, organised to raise money for Comic Relief, I thought that perhaps Choc would take part as I know he’s usually game for a laugh.  But it was a bit worrying that John Francome had no idea what a Space-Hopper was!

I’d originally planned to leave home at 11:00, thinking that the gates would open at midday as stated on the Sandown Park website.  But The Morning Line confirmed gates would open at 11:30 so I brought forward my plans, and left home at 10:40, as I prefer to park on the tarmac area in the centre of the course and need to be early to take advantage of this.  I travelled via the M25 and A3, turning off at the Esher junction, and parked as hoped.  Having changed into my boots and put on my coat, I walked along to the kiosk to purchase a Grandstand enclosure ticket, and then walked across the course to reach the tarmac area in front of the stands where I bought a race-card.

I then headed through the Surrey Hall to reach the Parade Ring and positioned myself next to the entry point, with my back to the Weighing Room.  The sun was shining and I enjoyed basking in its warmth.  After a while, the organisers of the Space-Hopper race came into the paddock to set up the markers and the winning post, the latter which they moved to the far corner near the Surrey Hall. I overheard their conversation, so knew that the competitors would be arriving at 12:55. 

At 12:45 the ‘Spotlight’ panel members appeared, positioning themselves in the centre of the Parade Ring where they ran through their racing tips for the day. 

Then, as expected, the Space-Hopper competitors began to arrive.  Alice Plunkett and John Francome were the first to appear, dressed in orange t-shirts.  A short while later, Tom Scudamore and Sam Thomas (wearing green t-shirts) and Timmy Murphy and Choc (wearing white t-shirts) appeared, having walked across from the Weighing Room.  They congregated just in front of where I was sitting, and the organisers explained the rules to them.  It would be a relay race, one member of each team leading off, and handing over a ‘batten’ (in the shape of a red nose) half way around the course, for the second team member to complete the race.  The team members who were leading off – Alice, Sam and Choc then went across to the starting line, which was also the finishing line as the race distance was one circuit of the Parade Ring.  The other team members positioned themselves half way around the course.  The competitors had to wear their red nose at all times, retrieving it if it fell off, and had to remain on the pathway around the paddock too.

Once they’d had their photos taken, they were off.  Unfortunately in his eagerness to make a good start, Choc fell off after a short distance, and Sam raced into the lead.  Choc recovered from his fall and quickly caught and overtook Alice, who also fell off shortly afterwards.   But Sam had an unassailable lead, and Tom took over and brought them home a good distance ahead.  I was so busy watching Choc cheering on his team-mate Timmy, that I didn’t notice who finished 2nd but whatever the result, I think John Francome probably cheated!  

Once the race was completed, all the competitors congregated by the race winning post before walking back to exit close by me.  I noticed Choc was rubbing his hand and wrist, so perhaps he’d suffered a mild injury when he fell off the Space-Hopper. Anyway, the 2nd favourites had won and Paddy Power, having put a bet on each of the teams, presented a cheque to Comic Relief for the winning amount.  Timmy and Choc had been the favourites, with Alice and John (not surprisingly) the outsiders.

The next event in the Parade Ring was the ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) Parade.  There were 10 horses on parade, including Make A Stand, Celibate and Blowing Wind (being led). The most excitable horse was Light the Fuse, who showed his dressage paces at various intervals. AP McCoy came into the Parade Ring to talk about his race memories of Make A Stand.   Prior to the first race, and once the competitors had exited onto the course, Make A Stand, Celibate and Blowing Wind paraded down the course too.    

The first race of the day was the EBF NH Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final, in which Choc would be riding the grey, Bakbenscher. Martin Keighley also had a runner in this race, Any Currency ridden by Warren Marston.  When the jockeys appeared, I noticed that the silks Choc wore were those of Blazing Bailey, same ownership then.  Choc was legged up on the near-side of the Parade Ring before exiting and cantering to the start.  The horses did not pass the stands, as the start was half way down the back straight, the race being 2 miles and 4 furlongs.  18 ran.  I positioned myself on the grass area, next to the rails to watch the race.

Then they were off.  The race was led off by Clay Hollister, with Any Currency taking a keen hold on the outside in 3rd.  Choc held up Bakbenscher at the back of the field.  Also near the back was the other grey, Big Eared Fran.  There was some bumping around the first bend, with Summery Justice and Time for Rupert involved.  Any Currency also lost two shoes as they came around the bend, his off fore and off hind, and sustained a cut.  As they galloped up the straight, What a Buzz took over the lead, with Any Currency in 2nd place, Clay Hollister back in 3rd. 

Bakbenscher was still being held up at the back of the field as they passed the winning post on the first circuit but made headway after the 6th flight and was chasing the leaders before 2 out.    Big Eared Fran made headway on the inside approaching the 2nd last flight, and was soon chasing the leaders.  However, despite hitting the last flight, he took over the lead and stayed on to win.  A winner for David Pipe and Andrew McNamara.  Bakbenscher overtook What a Buzz close home to take 2nd place, the latter finished 3rd, with Burton Port in 4th.  Any Currency completed in 8th place.

I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc return and unsaddle, before walking across to the Parade Ring in preparation for the next race, in which Choc’s mount was Trigger the Light. 

This event was a 3 mile and ½ a furlong Steeplechase with 7 runners.  Alan had a second runner in the race, Stolen Moments, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.   Choc came into the Parade Ring with William Kennedy and Wayne, and stood with the latter and Stolen Moments’ owners until Alan arrived. 

When the horses exited onto the course they cantered straight to the start, which was at the top end of the course.  Then they were off.  Trigger the Light was held up in last place.  Leading was Fresh Air and Fun, with Stolen Moments in 2nd place.  Still at the back of the field, Choc gave his horse a reminder after it jumped the open-ditch in front of the stands.  However, as they approached the final straight Trigger the Light was going well upsides Antonius Caesar, but then blundered at the Pond fence dropping back into 3rd.  Fresh Air and Fun was still in the led as it cleared the last.  Trigger the Light remained in 3rd at the final obstacle, but overtook Antonius Caesar on the run-in and closed on the leader too, as it wandered off a straight course but held on.  A winner for Jonjo O’Neill and AP McCoy.  Stolen Moments finished 4th.

Having been placed again, I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc return into the 2nd place spot before I returned to the Parade Ring in preparation for race 3, the feature event, The Imperial Cup (Handicap Hurdle).

Choc’s mount in the 3rd race was Irish raider, Native Clan for trainer Arthur Moore.  Choc came into the Parade Ring wearing ‘lycra silks’, very tight fitting, and soon found his ride’s connections.  When it was time to mount, he was legged up near the exit but did a circuit of the paddock before going out onto the course.

The race was 2 miles ½ furlong in distance, so the horses cantered down past the grandstand to the start.  19 runners.   Then they were off.

Mr Thriller took up the running, with Numide and Seven is my Number bringing up the rear.  Choc was near the back of the field too.   European Dream made a mistake at a flight in the back straight, his jockey clinging on for a few strides before losing his fight against gravity.  As they came into the final straight, Mr Thriller was still in the lead, with Dave’s Dream going well in 3rd place.  Having made up ground, Choc was in 8th position as they turned in. 

Dave’s Dream came up the stand side, taking the lead at the 2nd last flight.  Seven is my Number, having been badly hampered on the final bend, galloped up the inside, taking 2nd place before the last but could never catch Dave’s Dream which won easily on the line.  A winner for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson.  Prince Taime finished 3rd, with long time leader Mr Thriller in 4th.  Choc finished in 6th place.

I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses return, and also to see Choc as he walked back to the Weighing Room.  Then it was back to the Parade Ring to see Choc arrive for his final ride of the day, Polly Potter, in the EBF Mares’ NH Flat Race Final.  Alan had 2 runners in this race, the other being Asturienne ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. There were 18 runners.

As the race was 2 miles and ½ a furlong in trip, the horses cantered down past the stands to reach the start.  Then they were off.

Queen Poline took up the challenge at the head of the field, followed by Princess Yasmin.  Basford Lass veered away from the other runners at the start, but did agree to race.  Choc took a centre line, with Asturienne on his inside, about two thirds of the way down the field.  The eventual winner, Irish raider, Golden Sunbird, kept in close touch throughout the race, taking up the running over 2 furlongs out.  Kentucky Sky finished in 2nd, Choc and Polly Potter stayed on to take 3rd inside the final furlong, with Silver Kate in 4th.  Another winner for AP McCoy.

I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back into 3rd spot, speak with the owners and disappear inside the Weighing Room for a final time.

It was now time for the 5th race of the day, a Novices’ Steeplechase with just 4 runners, over a distance of 2 miles.  The horses cantered down to the start at the beginning of the home straight.  I decided to watch this race from the stands.

Then they were off.  Deep Purple led the field, with Kinkeel a close 2nd.  As the horses passed the winning post on the first circuit, they were in number order 1, 2, 3, 4!  Deep Purple lunged at the first fence in the back straight, but got away with it.  Kinkeel was soon outpaced and he dropped back to last.  Then more risky jumping from Deep Purple, although he still led as they came into the final straight.  He was challenged by Restless D’Artaix between the last two obstacles but repelled him, only to be collared on the run-in by Song of Songs, trained by James Fanshawe and ridden by AP McCoy.  A treble for Tony today.

As I was feeling hungry and, having smelt the food as I’d walked past the Fish and Chips van, I bought some chips, which I ate as I watched from the steps around the Winners’ Enclosure.

Having eaten and placed the polystyrene container in the bin, I settled by the Parade Ring to await the arrival of the entries for the final race of the day, a Handicap Steeplechase with 6 runners, over a distance of 2 miles. 

As I intended to leave as soon as the final race had been completed, once the horses had left the paddock I walked down to the trackside rails to watch the race.  Then they were off.  Baseball Ted took the lead, but was challenged all the way up the initial straight by the grey, Silver Adonis.   However Baseball Ted held him at bay and led until being swallowed up by the other runners at the railway fences.  Silver Adonis was now at the head of the field, but Dominican Monk was going very strongly and took over the running between the last 2 fences and went on to win.  Silver Adonis lost 2nd place near the line to Royal Wedding.  Baseball Ted took 4th.  A winner for Timmy Murphy and trainer, David Arbuthnot.

As I wished to find out if I could beat the traffic by leaving immediately after the final race, I didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure, but instead crossed back over the course to collect my car and join the already formed queue for the exit.  However, it took far less time than usual to clear the traffic build-up around the course and through Esher, and I had reached the M25 by 17:30. 

The motorway was flowing freely all the way home, and I arrived back at 18:10.

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